an expat’s front row seat of the apocalypse
(Updated 9/29/17) Is that a truck passing in the night, or an H-bomb passing overhead…
Despite all the recent nuclear bomb tests and missile launches in North Korea, including a few flyovers of my adopted home Japan, our rural suburb in west Tokyo seemed safely on the sidelines of the current nuclear missile crisis in North Korea. After all, I figured, with nearly 80,000 South Korean and US troops to face on the other side of the DMZ, Kim Jong-un had enough on his plate without worrying about Japan, a country so shell-shocked by the horrors of war that eighty years later its constitution still prohibits a standing army.*
Besides, to be mercenary about it, and with apologies in advance to the Chammoros, if anyone off the Korean peninsula might be in Pyongyang’s bombsights, wouldn’t it be Guam? After all, “America’s aircraft carrier in the Pacific” is home base to the B1 Lancer bombers which recently flew above the DMZ — though still in international airspace — and prompted the threat that North Korea would shoot down American bombers.
In the algorithm of risk vs. reward which every expat calculates in times of crisis, I simply could not see the danger of a nuclear — or biological or chemical — attack near Tokyo outweighing the rewards of the life that R., my wife, and I have been lucky enough to build for ourselves in Tokyo.
So it naturally came as a bit of a surprise in mid September, when a North Korean state agency threatened to use nuclear weapons to “sink” Japan. I mean, why would Kim Jong-Un aim one of his maybe 60 nuclear weapons at us?
Then I learned a couple of facts which has changed the metric.
First, there are 50,000 American forces members in Japan, well within strike range of Pyongyang and thus likely of interest to the DPRK military leadership. And, of the 23 American military facilities in Japan, seven are in or near Tokyo, including Yokota Air Base and the Yokosuka Naval Base. Yokota, the home for the headquarters of United States Forces Japan, is in Fussa, western Tokyo — R. and I pass on our way to the mountains. Yokosuka, at the mouth of Tokyo Bay, is home port to entire Seventh Fleet, including the supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan, which returns to the Korean peninsula in October.
In other words, there are significant military targets within Tokyo. For a lesson in morbid urban geography, the Nukemap website can approximate casualties and fatalities for variables such as yield size, airburst or surface detonation, and wind direction. According to the site, and depending on wind direction, our neighbourhood in west Tokyo could well be in the fallout zone of a 250-kiloton hydrogen bomb, the same size as the bomb tested in mid-September — up to 17 times the size of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima.
Second, there is a historic animosity between Japan and North Korea; indeed, the very founding of North Korea and the current dynasty is rooted in resistance to the Japanese occupation of the peninsula in the first third of the 20th century. As I learned in a recent Newsweek feature by Samuel Earle, the origin myth of North Korea’s current dynasty is inextricably linked to Kim Il-Sung’s resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea. So if Kim Jong-un were to “sink” Japan as he has recently threatened to do, he would simply be fulfilling the war against Japan fought by his grandfather almost 100 years ago.
So, for the moment, we here in Japan perhaps more than in most other countries must rely on the better angels of Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un’s natures to not blow us up.
But are they paying attention? Maybe I should tweet this…
Samuel Earle, North Korea vs. Japan: A Historic and Hateful Rivalry That Now Threatens the World from Newsweek, reprinted on Yahoo News